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Great baseball cities, and great pitching performances

Washington Nationals fans celebrate as rookie pitcher Stephen

Washington Nationals fans celebrate as rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 in seven innings in his major-league debut to beat the Pirates, 5-2. (June 8, 2010) Credit: AP

Took the Metro from Nationals Park to my hotel last night, and man, was it packed. At Gallery Place-Chinatown, I switched from the green line to the red line. That second train was so crowded, at roughly 11:00, that some people had to wait for the next one.

I saw one 50-ish woman, outside the train, get separated from a 20-ish woman. The older woman yelled to the younger one (her daughter, perhaps), "Did you have fun?"

On the red line, a boy who looked eight or nine fell asleep in his dad's (I assume) lap. Others wore Strasburg T-shirts.

And when I returned to my hotel room, I turned on the TV and landed on the local ABC affiliate's nightly newscast (late, because of the NBA game), which bragged about "Team coverage" of Stephen Strasburg's debut.

Not bad for a city that, the last five years, has exhibited about as much interest in baseball as New York City has in NASCAR.

When people talk about baseball being a weaker sibling to football in the U.S., I think that embodies itself more than anything in the propensity of "football towns" and shortage of "baseball towns." Washington, for instance, absolutely lives for the Redskins and, until last night, has displayed close to zero enthusiasm about baseball. 

Of the current baseball cities, I'd say that Atlanta, Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Miami, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Diego, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Houston and Denver (in no order whatsoever) also clearly favor their football teams.

To what should Washington aspire? Here's my personal, non-scientific list of best baseball cities. Just based on personal observations:

1. St. Louis. Cardinals fans come to the park, express consistent support of their own players and even coordinate their colors.

2. New York. We support two teams very well, the two clubs have extremely disparate profiles - essentially Thurston Howell, III vs. Gilligan - and, if I may be so bold, we generally know what we're talking about.

3. Boston. Love the passion, but two championships generally don't seem to have helped them gain perspective needed when, say, the team gets off to a 4-9 start.

4. Philadelphia.  The Phillies' success the last couple of years really has changed the vibe here. During last year's World Series, Citizens Bank Park seemed like a more intimidating place for the Yankees than the new Yankee Stadium was for the Phillies.

5. Los Angeles. We certainly can't speak of "Los Angeles" as a two-team market in the way we would of New York or Chicago, because Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium attract, for the most part, different geographic fan bases. But both do very well, even if the Dodgers get more Hollywood phonies and the Angels attract more of a family crowd.

6. Chicago. The Bleacher Bums are great. But on the South Side, the White Sox always want more support.

Now, for our next list, where does last night's Strasburg performance rank? On my personal list, of games I've witnessed, I really can't think of too many that approach it. I've been to only one no-hitter, and that was this freak of nature. Roger Clemens' 2000 postseason one-hitter was dominant, but for some reason, it never struck me the same way. Let's just say that, even as I've tried to move past rendering moral judgment on the Steroid Era, Clemens raised plenty of eyebrows the night he pitched that powerfully - at age 38, in the middle of October - that it took away from the enjoyment even then.

When you factor in storyline, Josh Beckett's 2003 World Series shutout of the Yankees has to go right up there, what with Beckett validating Jack McKeon's decision to start him on three days' rest. And of my Pedro Martinez sightings, his shutdown of the Yankees in the 1999 playoffs would have to rank as the top.

At this moment, though, Strasburg's peformance last night has to go among the very top. Perhaps that will turn ephemeral if Strasburg fades away. But after watching him pitch last night, even if it was against Pittsburgh, I'm less confident that there will be any sort of dramatic fade.

--Looks like I missed a good Mets win last night, and as I read Anthony Rieber's lead, I thought, "It is a miracle that Kendry Morales, rather than a Met, suffered that bizarre walkoff homer injury, isn't it?" Maybe it's just the continued good karma of Citi Field, where it's so difficult to go deep.

--Mike Pelfrey continued his outstanding season.

--Not surprisingly, Major League Baseball green-lighted the Mets' placement of Oliver Perez on the disabled list.

--Jim Baumbach writes that Ike Davis' homer validates the Mets' draft strategy of going with college players. Davis so far looks like an outstanding first-round selection in 2008 - and at slot, no less. I personally think the Mets should mix it up a little more. After all, Steve Phillips, of all people, drafted David Wright out of high school in 2001, and that worked out all right.

--Good piece, also by Baumbach, on Jesus Feliciano, who arrived in the majors the same night as Strasburg and Florida's Mike Stanton but took a while longer to get there.

--Mark Teixeira hit well in the Yankees' batting-practice session against Baltimore. I'm going to stop in Baltimore on my way home from DC and take in the Yankees tonight, weather permitting

Meanwhile, with last night's losing pitcher Kevin Millwood an obvious Mets trade target, I checked out Millwood's FanGraphs page. Forget about the poor won-loss record; that obviously has been impacted by the fact that he plays for baseball's worst team. Otherwise? Mixed. The most encouraging read is his 4.09 xFIP, which reflects a higher than normal, 16.2 percent homer-per-flyball rate. But he's giving up a line drives, and he's actually stranding a higher percentage of baserunners (74.3 percent) than his career norm (71.6 percent).

Still, if I were the Mets, and the Cliff Lee price grew inordinately high, I'd strong consider a Millwood money dump, because 1) Millwood surely benefit from the league and division change, and 2) He has a very strong clubhouse reputation and could get energized by both the playoff race and a prominent platform to earn his next contract, here in his walk year.

--Back to the Yankees, Damon Oppenheimer defended his selection of Cito Culver with the team's first overall pick.

--Jorge Posada is making progress toward catching. It makes sense that the Yankees would want Posada to catch at least some of the Yankees' National League road swing through Arizona and Los Angeles June 22-27, rather than being relegated to pinch-hitter.

--Live chat Friday at 11. Would love to see you there.

--I'll check in later from Camden Yards.




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